National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce.
Temporary rule; inseason General category retention limit adjustment.
NMFS is adjusting the Atlantic bluefin tuna (BFT) General category daily retention limit from the default limit of one large medium or giant BFT to four large medium or giant BFT for June 1 through August 31, 2014. This action is based on consideration of the regulatory determination criteria regarding inseason adjustments, and applies to Atlantic tunas General category (commercial) permitted vessels and Highly Migratory Species (HMS) Charter/Headboat category permitted vessels when fishing commercially for BFT.
Effective June 1, 2014, through August 31, 2014.
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FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:
Sarah McLaughlin or Brad McHale, 978-281-9260.
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Regulations implemented under the authority of the Atlantic Tunas Convention Act (ATCA; 16 U.S.C. 971 et seq.) and the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act; 16 U.S.C. 1801 et seq.) governing the harvest of BFT by persons and vessels subject to U.S. jurisdiction are found at 50 CFR part 635. Section 635.27 subdivides the U.S. BFT quota recommended by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) among the various domestic fishing categories, per the allocations established in the 2006 Consolidated Highly Migratory Species Fishery Management Plan (2006 Consolidated Start Printed Page 30746HMS FMP) (71 FR 58058, October 2, 2006) and in accordance with implementing regulations. NMFS is required under ATCA and the Magnuson-Stevens Act to provide U.S. fishing vessels with a reasonable opportunity to harvest the ICCAT-recommended quota.
The 2010 ICCAT recommendation regarding western BFT management resulted in baseline U.S. quotas for 2011 and for 2012 of 923.7 mt (not including the 25 mt ICCAT allocated to the United States to account for bycatch of BFT in pelagic longline fisheries in the Northeast Distant Gear Restricted Area). The 2011 BFT quota rule (76 FR 39019, July 5, 2011) implemented the base quota of 435.1 mt for the General category fishery (a commercial tunas fishery in which handgear is used). Each of the General category time periods (January, June through August, September, October through November, and December) is allocated a portion of the annual General category quota. Although NMFS has published proposed quota specifications for 2014 (79 FR 18870, April 4, 2014), the baseline General category subquotas as codified in 2011 would not be changed, including the 217.6-mt June through August General category subquota.
The 2014 BFT fishing year, which is managed on a calendar-year basis and subject to an annual calendar-year quota, began January 1, 2014. The General category season, which was open January 1 through March 21, 2014, resumes on June 1, 2014, and continues through December 31, 2014. Unless changed, the General category daily retention limit would be the default retention limit of one large medium or giant BFT (measuring 73 inches (185 cm) curved fork length (CFL) or greater) per vessel per day/trip (§ 635.23(a)(2)). This default retention limit applies to General category permitted vessels and to HMS Charter/Headboat category permitted vessels when fishing commercially for BFT.
For the 2013 fishing year, NMFS adjusted the General category limit from the default level of one large medium or giant BFT as follows: Two large medium or giant BFT for January (77 FR 74612, December 17, 2012), and three large medium or giant BFT for June through August (78 FR 26708, May 8, 2013), three large medium or giant BFT for September 1 through November 26 (78 FR 50346, August 19, 2013), and five large medium or giant BFT for November 27 through December 31 (78 FR 72584, December 3, 2013). NMFS adjusted the daily retention limit for the 2014 January subquota period from the default level of one large medium or giant BFT to two large medium or giant BFT (78 FR 77362, December 23, 2013). That retention limit was effective from January 1, 2014, until March 21, 2014, when NMFS closed the fishery because the January subquota had been met (79 FR 15924, March 24, 2014).
Adjustment of General Category Daily Retention Limit
Under § 635.23(a)(4), NMFS may increase or decrease the daily retention limit of large medium and giant BFT over a range of zero to a maximum of five per vessel based on consideration of the relevant criteria provided under § 635.27(a)(8), which include: The usefulness of information obtained from catches in the particular category for biological sampling and monitoring of the status of the stock; effects of the adjustment on BFT rebuilding and overfishing; effects of the adjustment on accomplishing the objectives of the fishery management plan; variations in seasonal BFT distribution, abundance, or migration patterns; effects of catch rates in one area precluding vessels in another area from having a reasonable opportunity to harvest a portion of the category's quota; and review of dealer reports, daily landing trends, and the availability of BFT on the fishing grounds.
- NMFS has considered these criteria and their applicability to the General category BFT retention limit for the June-August 2014 General category fishery. These considerations include, but are not limited to, the following. Biological samples collected from BFT landed by General category fishermen and provided by BFT dealers continue to provide NMFS with valuable parts and data for ongoing scientific studies of BFT age and growth, migration, and reproductive status. As this action would be taken consistent with the quotas previously established and analyzed in the 2011 BFT quota final rule (76 FR 39019, July 5, 2011), and consistent with objectives of the 2006 Consolidated HMS FMP, it is not expected to negatively impact stock health. A principal consideration is the objective of providing opportunities to harvest the full June-August subquota without exceeding it based upon the 2006 Consolidated HMS FMP goal: “Consistent with other objectives of this FMP, to manage Atlantic HMS fisheries for continuing optimum yield so as to provide the greatest overall benefit to the Nation, particularly with respect to food production, providing recreational opportunities, preserving traditional fisheries, and taking into account the protection of marine ecosystems.” Migration of commercial-size BFT to the fishing grounds off the northeast U.S. coast is anticipated by early June. Lastly, based on General category landings rates during the June through August time period over the last several years, it is highly unlikely that the June through August subquota will be filled with the default daily retention limit of one BFT per vessel, and it may not be filled at a three-BFT limit if recent patterns of BFT availability and landings rates hold. During the June-August periods in 2012 and 2013, under a three-fish limit, BFT landings were approximately 155 mt and 108 mt, respectively (71 percent and 50 percent, respectively, of the available quota for that period).
A limit lower than four fish could result in unused quota being added to the later portion of the General category season (i.e., rolling forward to the subsequent subquota time period). Increasing the daily retention limit from the default may mitigate rolling an excessive amount of unused quota from one time-period subquota to the next. However, increasing the daily limit to five fish may risk exceeding the available June-August subquota. NMFS has also received comment over recent years from General category fishery participants and BFT dealers that a five-fish limit at this time of year may negatively affect market prices as the fish quality tends to be lower earlier in the year. Increasing the daily retention limit to four fish will increase the likelihood that the General category BFT landings will approach, but not exceed, the annual quota, as well as increase the opportunity for catching BFT harvest during the June through August subquota period. Increasing (and sometimes maximizing) opportunity within each subquota period is also important because of the migratory nature and seasonal distribution of BFT. In a particular geographic region, or waters accessible from a particular port, the amount of fishing opportunity for BFT may be constrained by the short amount of time the BFT are present.
Based on all of these considerations, NMFS has determined that a four-fish General category retention limit is warranted. It would provide a reasonable opportunity to harvest the U.S. quota of BFT, without exceeding it, while maintaining an equitable distribution of fishing opportunities; help achieve optimum yield in the General category BFT fishery; allow the collection of a broad range of data for stock monitoring purposes; and be consistent with the objectives of the 2006 Consolidated HMS FMP. Therefore, NMFS increases the General category retention limit from the default Start Printed Page 30747limit to four large medium or giant BFT per vessel per day/trip, effective June 1, 2014, through August 31, 2014.
Regardless of the duration of a fishing trip, the daily retention limit applies upon landing. For example, whether a vessel fishing under the General category limit takes a two-day trip or makes two trips in one day, the daily limit of four fish may not be exceeded upon landing. This General category retention limit is effective in all areas, except for the Gulf of Mexico, and applies to those vessels permitted in the General category, as well as to those HMS Charter/Headboat permitted vessels fishing commercially for BFT.
Monitoring and Reporting
NMFS will continue to monitor the BFT fishery closely through the mandatory dealer landing reports, which NMFS requires to be submitted within 24 hours of a dealer receiving BFT. Depending on the level of fishing effort and catch rates of BFT, NMFS may determine that additional retention limit adjustment or closure is necessary to ensure available quota is not exceeded or to enhance scientific data collection from, and fishing opportunities in, all geographic areas.
Closures or subsequent adjustments to the daily retention limits, if any, will be published in the Federal Register. In addition, fishermen may call the Atlantic Tunas Information Line at (888) 872-8862 or (978) 281-9260, or access hmspermits.noaa.gov, for updates on quota monitoring and retention limit adjustments.
The Assistant Administrator for NMFS (AA) finds that it is impracticable and contrary to the public interest to provide prior notice of, and an opportunity for public comment on, this action for the following reasons:
The regulations implementing the 2006 Consolidated HMS FMP provide for inseason retention limit adjustments to respond to the unpredictable nature of BFT availability on the fishing grounds, the migratory nature of this species, and the regional variations in the BFT fishery. Affording prior notice and opportunity for public comment to implement these retention limits is impracticable as NMFS needs to wait until it has necessary data and information about the fishery before it can select the appropriate retention limit for a time period prescribed by regulation. By the time NMFS has the necessary data, implementing the retention limit following a public comment period would preclude fishermen from harvesting BFT that are legally available consistent with all of the regulatory criteria. Analysis of available data shows that the General category BFT retention limits may be increased with minimal risks of exceeding the ICCAT-allocated quota.
Delays in increasing these retention limits would adversely affect those General and Charter/Headboat category vessels that would otherwise have an opportunity to harvest more than the default retention limit of one BFT per day/trip and may exacerbate the problem of low catch rates and quota rollovers. Limited opportunities to harvest the respective quotas may have negative social and economic impacts for U.S. fishermen that depend upon catching the available quota within the time periods designated in the 2006 Consolidated HMS FMP. Adjustment of the retention limit needs to be effective June 1, 2014, or as soon as possible thereafter, to minimize any unnecessary disruption in fishing patterns, to allow the impacted sectors to benefit from the adjustment, and to not preclude fishing opportunities for fishermen who have access to the fishery only during this time period. Therefore, the AA finds good cause under 5 U.S.C. 553(b)(B) to waive prior notice and the opportunity for public comment. For these reasons, there is good cause under 5 U.S.C. 553(d) to waive the 30-day delay in effectiveness.
This action is being taken under 50 CFR 635.23(a)(4) and is exempt from review under Executive Order 12866.
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Dated: May 22, 2014.
Alan D. Risenhoover,
Director, Office of Sustainable Fisheries, National Marine Fisheries Service.
[FR Doc. 2014-12396 Filed 5-23-14; 11:15 am]
BILLING CODE 3510-22-P